“He also said to them, “Imagine that one of you has a friend and you go to that friend in the middle of the night. Imagine saying, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine on a journey has arrived and I have nothing to set before him.’” Luke 11:5-6 CEB
Like most kids I used to imagine what it would be like to be a professional athlete. What would it be like to make the winning three-point basket in the NBA Championship? To sink the winning putt at The Masters? To make the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl? To hit the winning home run in the World Series? To stroke the winning ace at Wimbledon? I believe that most young boys and girls have active imaginations where they try and put themselves in the spotlight moment—if only in their dreams. Imagination is a wonderful thing. Imagination can take us to places we may never actually go. Imagination can help us talk to people we may never meet. Imagination can help us enter situations and circumstances we may never experience. There is power in the positive use of an active imagination.
The true power of imagination is the ability to help us feel things we may never feel, but that others are feeling. Imagination is the key to empathy. Empathy is the ability, or capacity, to imagine feelings that one does not actually have. We can extend the definition to include thoughts and experiences. In other words, I will most likely never sink the winning putt at The Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club. However, I have imagined what that would be like, feel like, and what thoughts would be running through my head. Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s place to the best of our ability—or the best of our imagination. The power of imagination will help me to enter those feelings, thoughts, and experiences. To be clear, it is not the same as actually having those feelings, thoughts, or experiences. Empathy is the willingness to try and imagine what that is like.
When Jesus was illustrating the importance of persistent prayer he told his disciples to “imagine” themselves in a certain situation. He invited them to imagine what it would be like to be in the situation. He also invited them to imagine what it would be like to hear certain response and how each of these things would make them feel, and how they would respond. Jesus says this to them knowing they more than likely had not been in that situation before. Jesus wants them to feel the feelings and enter into the experience as much as their imagination will allow them. By doing this He knows they will be better able to understand his point. Jesus also knows that this will be an important lesson for them to learn in all aspects of life and ministry. The more empathy they have toward others and their feelings, thoughts, and experiences the better able they will be to help them.
How is your imagination? Are you able to imagine what others are thinking, feeling, or experiencing? If we will cultivate our imagination in this regard we will build our capacity for empathy. When our co-worker is frustrated with a situation at work or home we will be better able to imagine how they are feeling. No matter what the situation the ability to empathize with someone will help us in all areas of life. We are experiencing this in the greater United Methodist Church today. Not everyone sees eye to eye on many issues. Our ability to imagine how others feel, think, or experience the different issues is crucial to a deeper understanding. Our capacity for empathy deepens our capacity for understanding. The more we understand each other the better our relationships will be. Jesus knew all of this when he asked his disciples to imagine this particular situation. Imagination is the key to empathy – empathy is the key to understanding. Will you work on your imagination today? Will you grow your empathy today? Jesus asks us to imagine the difference this would make.
This weekend we will talk about the power of empathy. When we imagine what others are going through in order to connect with them there is great relational power. I hope you will join us this weekend in worship. The best is yet to come. I love you all and can’t wait to see you in church!